Sleep. Can’t live without it. Can’t literally live without it.
We spend approximately a third of our lives asleep, which over a 24 hour period equates to a full 8 hours. But is this the right amount? Could you manage with 5 or 6 hours sleep? What about 10 or 12 hours? We’ll explore the answer in this article.
Overview – What is Sleep?
To some, sleep is a wonderful state. Hours of rest, recovery and hopefully good dreams. To others, it’s more of a chore which takes away from the joy of the day.
However you see it, Sleep is a crucial part of our biological system and is known to be an active state in which our brain is able to begin processing and defragging, and our body is able to rest and recover.
Why do we need Sleep?
The Sleep Association (https://www.sleepassociation.org/about-sleep/what-is-sleep/) identifies 3 primary reasons why we need sleep, but there are several others, too.
To Survive – studies have shown sleep is crucial for our ability to survive (i.e. stay alive). This may be linked to reason two below, where our immune system becomes negatively affected by the lack of REM sleep which affects our body’s ability to regulate temperature and provide protection against the environment. In a study, rats which were sleep deprived survived merely 5 weeks vs healthier rats surviving anywhere from 2 to 3 years.
To Support our Nervous Function – Sleep is linked to a healthier working nervous functioning. Sleep deprivation causes us to lose the ability to focus and concentrate on any given task, it also affects judgement and ability to think which makes it dangerous if driving or operating machinery. During sleep, our brain has the chance to reinforce the neural connections in our brain which help us maintain cellular activity.
To Support our Immune System – Following from an impaired immune system, lack of sleep can put immense stress onto your immune system. There is a link between sleep and immune functioning with scientists finding a link between full, deep sleep and an increase in cytokine production. Cytokines are associated with inflammation, which helps you recover when injured or otherwise ill. Without this response we would not be able to effectively recover, which could lead to prolonged illnesses or worse.
Helps promote positive Mental Health – if you suffer from depression or another form of mental health issue, you may suffer from sleep disorders such as waking up in the middle of the night unable to go back asleep or even insomnia. This lack of sleep can aggravate mental health concerns and the underlying problems even more obviously as shown in the image from Mind.org below. Lack of sleep leads to more tiredness which leads to impaired decision making and aggravation and further compounding the underlying issues potentially giving rise to worse and worse mental health states.
[Image from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/sleep-problems/about-sleep-and-mental-health/]
How much Sleep is recommended for each age-group?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends up to 8 hours of sleep for people over the age of 64 and anywhere from 7 to 9 hours of sleep for those 18 to 64, with kids in teens and pre-teens needing considerably more (10 to 12 hours) in order to support biological growth and memory development.
[Image from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need]
How much sleep do I really need?
While the chart above from the Sleep Foundation and the National Sleep Foundation works as a guide, as humans we are all distinctly unique. You may be 30 years old with the recommendation for 8 hours of sleep, but your lifestyle may determine the need for more or less sleep.
Ask yourself these questions when determining how much sleep is right for you:
- Are you happy with the amount of sleep you’re getting? Are you sleeping too much or too little? Do you feel you need more or less? Oftentimes you’ll know if you’re feeling too tired, or if you feel you slept unnecessarily long with no cause.
- Do you workout or work in an environment where you are expending a high amount of physical (or mental) energy? Doing so may require you to sleep more hours to achieve optimal recovery.
- Are you travelling and adjusting to different time zones? You may need to cut down or increase sleep depending on how quickly you want your body to adapt to the new climate and season/time.
- Have you been feeling run down or unwell? Your body maybe talking to you here asking for more sleep than usual.
The optimal length of sleep greatly varies depending on the individual needs and lifestyle requirements.
Ultimately, the importance of sleep cannot be overstated. For a healthy life, relationships and productivity – you need sleep. Just how much? Listen to your body. As long as you feel good, you’re probably getting enough.